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Boomer Anthems: Stairway to Heaven
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Boomer Anthems: Stairway to Heaven

Robert Plant spent much of the ’70s answering questions about the lyrics he wrote for “Stairway.” When asked why the song was so popular, he said it could be its “abstraction,” adding, “Depending on what day it is, I still interpret the song a different way – and I wrote the lyrics.”

The lyrics take some pretty wild turns, but the beginning of the song is about a woman who accumulates money, only to find out the hard way her life had no meaning and will not get her into heaven. This is the only part Plant would really explain, as he said it was “a woman getting everything she wanted without giving anything back.” Songfacts

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for

Oh oh oh oh
and she’s buying a stairway to heaven

There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

Led Zeppelin started planning “Stairway” in early 1970, when they decided to create a new, epic song to replace “Dazed And Confused” as the centerpiece of their concerts. Jimmy Page would work on the song in an 8-track studio he had installed in his boathouse, trying out different sections on guitar. By April, he was telling journalists that their new song might be 15-minutes long, and described it as something that would “build towards a climax” with John Bonham’s drums not coming in for some time. In October 1970, after about 18 months of near constant touring, the song took shape. Page and Plant explained that they started working on it at a 250-year-old Welsh cottage called Bron-yr-Aur, where they wrote the songs for Led Zeppelin III. Page sometimes told a story of the pair sitting by a fire at the cabin as they composed it, a tale that gives the song a mystical origin story, as there could have been spirits at play within those walls.  Songfacts

There’s a feeling I get
When I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it really makes me wonder

And it’s whispered that soon,
If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter

Page told a different story under oath: When he was called to the stand in 2016 as part of a plagiarism trial over this song, he said that he wrote the music on his own and first played it for his bandmates at Headley Grange in Liphook Road, Headley, Hampshire, where they recorded it using a mobile studio owned by The Rolling Stones. Plant corroborated the story in his testimony.

Headley Grange may not be as enchanting as Bron-yr-Aur, but the place had some character: It was a huge, old, dusty mansion with no electricity but great acoustics. Bands would go there to get some privacy and focus on songwriting, as the biggest distractions were the sheep and other wildlife. Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin Songfacts

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder

Your head is humming and it won’t go
In case you don’t know
The piper’s calling you to join him
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow
And did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll

Robert Plant recalled writing the lyrics in a flash of inspiration. Said Plant: “I was holding a pencil and paper, and for some reason I was in a very bad mood. Then all of a sudden my hand was writing out the words, ‘There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold/And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.’ I just sat there and looked at the words and then I almost leapt out of my seat.”

Plant’s implication that something else was moving his pencil for him led to speculation that it was Satan who was dictating the words, and along with the backward messages and Page’s Aleister Crowley connection, there was enough evidence for many listeners that the devil had some role in creating this song.  Songfacts

And she’s buying the stairway to heaven

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dan Patterson September 2, 2018, 11:29 AM

    Sippican (or Lileks?) says “Like what you like; I don’t care.”. But that one is high on my list of “I Do Not Want To Hear Again” songs.
    Probably because I’m a grouch and getting better at it as I age, the song has baggage tied to it and none of it pleasant – the common philosophy of the time did not resonate with me and hearing the meaningless wanderings of the “bustle in your hedgerow” only remind me of wasted time and weed-bag philosophers. Maann.
    But don’t let a grouch spoil it for you, I just don’t want to hear it again.
    And get off my lawn.

  • Vanderleun September 2, 2018, 12:19 PM

    In the radio biz it is said: “If Stairway to Heaven is playing, the DJ is in the bathroom.”

  • Steve in Greensboro September 2, 2018, 12:31 PM

    Off topic, but here is Little Roger and the Goosebumps doing their version of the theme to the TV show “Gilligan’s Island” titled “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island”. By the way, the cranky rich guys of some other band for some reason took offense at Little Roger’s unique composition and sued the poor upstart musicians, probably for tortious humiliation or something like that. As I recall, they tried to have every copy destroyed, apparently unsuccessfully.

  • jwm September 2, 2018, 1:31 PM

    Saw a big hand lettered sign posted next to the jukebox in a bar:
    If you think the DJ had it tough…


  • ghostsniper September 2, 2018, 2:21 PM

    If you go into a guitar store and start to play stairway, freebird, cat scratch or paranoid you’ll get punched in the face AND booted in the ass.

  • steve walsh September 2, 2018, 3:54 PM

    May be strange but I love all those anthem-ish songs; Stairway, Freebird, Mountain Jam. Probably because I was born in ’57 and so mid to late teens when they came about.

    I don’t know of any places that prohibit them, but all the open mike places around here ban Dylan. 😉 My cohort loves to hate hippies.

  • Snakepit Kansas September 2, 2018, 3:55 PM

    If the Doors’ Riders on the Storm comes on, it is guaranteed to have started raining around here. An unspoken rule.

    For the DJ in the shitter, Foghat’s SLOW RIDE or Iron Butterfly’s Innagoddadavida is another giveaway. And don’t speak no evil on Lynyrd Skynyrd!

  • Charles September 2, 2018, 4:20 PM

    Thanks for posting this. Don’t care what anybody else thinks – Stairway is one of the greats, and these guys capture the spirit pretty well! Besides, E. European women are so pretty…

  • Callmelennie September 2, 2018, 4:24 PM

    And here’s Hillary’s “Stairway To Oblivion”

    There’s some steps to a porch
    But she wants to be sure
    Cause you know sometimes legs cease to function
    In a suit by her side
    There’s a large man with drugs
    Sometimes all of her thoughts need unfreezing

    See it all here, including “And every RINO down the road”

  • Snakepit Kansas September 2, 2018, 4:31 PM

    Charles, I’ve made a brief stint to Europe. Hair in the armpits and quite spirited. I prefer my Asian wife 100X.

    Stairway is a good tune, but you’d need seven fingers on one hand to play lead on OVER THE MOUNTAIN by Ozzy or Lynch Mob’s WICKED SENSATION.

  • ghostsniper September 2, 2018, 6:45 PM

    @Snake, southern rock – all the time!, hail yayeh!

  • Uncle Mikey September 3, 2018, 9:05 AM

    This song doesn’t quite work in an overstimulated setting like 2018. But the first 500 times I heard it were amazing

  • Don Rodrigo September 5, 2018, 10:22 AM

    “Stairway” is THE WORST SONG EVER.

    And Zeppelin sucked — period.

    And Plant? A screechy-voiced, grating vocalist who liked to whip underage girls.

    Did NOT like them in their heyday, and don’t like them now. NO redeeming features whatsoever.

    Have a nice day and some bourbon.